First SAFER Grants Put to Use

Small rural volunteer fire companies as well as career departments serving metropolitan areas are among the recipients of the $65 million being doled out by the Department of Homeland Security SAFER program.

Providing trained personnel _ volunteers or paid _ is the program's primary goal. A peer group of fire service leaders from around the country scrutinized each application last spring to determine who receives a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, either under hiring for paid departments, or recruitment and retention for volunteer departments.

The way departments will use their grants varies according to the needs. Paid departments have justified to the peer review groups their need for additional staff and the use of the money is pretty straight forward.

For recruitment and retention awards, uses vary. The Greenwood Rural Fire Company in Texas will be using its award of $14,400 to increase its insurance policy to cover personnel who are injured or killed, according to Chief John Burgoyne.

He hopes the enhanced benefits may help attract and keep members. The department, located about 30 miles from Fort Worth, will receive $3,100 a year for four years to boost the insurance policy.

The company, which currently has 25 members, also is engaging in a recruitment drive. "We're in great shape after work hours. It's daytime that we're really short," the chief said, adding that they will get $1,000 the first year, followed by $500, $300 and $200.

In addition to trying to attract retirees and career firefighters from other jurisdictions who live in their community, he said they also are trying to get local businesses to allow their personnel to leave work to respond to emergencies.

The company also received three other AFG program grants, including one last year they used to purchase a new engine.

The Pasco County Fire and Rescue Company in Florida will be using its grant of $44,000 to enhance its explorer post, a program to introduce young men and women to the service.

"We're also going to use the money to pay for a Firefighter I class," said Battalion Chief Mike Ciccarello, adding that the course is required of all volunteers.

The combination department with 350 career and 200 volunteers is responsible for handling emergencies over 746 square miles. In recent years, they purchased SCBA and a fire prevention trailer with money received through the AFG program.

Meanwhile, paid department in South Jordan, Utah will use its $600,000 to bring its department into compliance with NFPA staffing minimums, said Deputy Chief Chris Evans.

When the six new people start in January, the truck company will be fully staffed, while the engine station will be in compliance about 80 percent of the time. Regulations state there must be four qualified people on the unit.

Evans said the department is pleased to have received the grant, adding that without it they would have had difficulty hiring the additional and much needed personnel.

Since they are currently in the middle of the fiscal year, he said the city manager has agreed to help shift funds to pay for the firefighters, who will attend a 13-week recruit academy.

This isn't the first time the department received federal funds. They also received a grant through the AFG program to help purchase equipment for the 38 full-time firefighters who are responsible for emergencies in the town of 45,000.

The North Carolina Volunteer Fire Association will use its award to produce a video to recruit fire and rescue personnel.

"We offer a great benefits package for volunteers, and we're going to explain that," said Paul Miller, executive director, adding that in addition to the video, the association will be buying television spots to get the word out.

Some companies are still able to attract and keep volunteers, but others are struggling. That's why the state association decided to initiate the recruitment campaign, he said.

In addition to insurance, the state also offers scholarships and a pension plan for volunteers.

There will be six additional firefighters hired in Foley, Ala., thanks to the SAFER award of $600,000, said Chief James Hinton.

The additional personnel also will bring their engine crews into compliance with NFPA. Currently, seven career and 34 volunteers out of three stations handle emergencies in 112 square miles.

Firefighters with Romeoville Fire Department have a unique first due area as they handle emergencies on waterways, an airport and a refinery. They will be using the $300,000 SAFER grant to hire three people, said Assistant Chief Mike Flaherty.

The addition personnel will boost the number of people per shift, Flaherty said, adding that the number of responses keeps increasing as their community grows.

Eastside Fire/Rescue will be adding to its retention program with its $68,000 award, said John Murphy, deputy fire chief.

The combination department located in Issaquash, outside of Seattle, has a diverse running area. Volunteers, who are required to attend about 35 drills annually, are paid minimum wage for their time.

Murphy said the volunteers are essential to the department, and the federal money will help insure they are properly trained.

President Bush last month signed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act that contains $110 million in SAFER funds for FY 2006 $45 million more than in FY 2005.

At the same time, appropriations for FIRE grants was lessened. While $650 million was authorized FY '05, only $545 has been set aside next year.

Departments winning federal assistance for hiring are expected to pick up the entire tab after four years. It requires a financial commitment in the first four years. During the first year, the grant pays 90 percent of the costs of a firefighter